I had an amazing weekend learning about local sustainable food and cooperatives! So, you know, the best kind of weekend. Here's a rundown of what happened:
If you're not familiar with Growing Power, take a minute and browse their website. Food justice, intensive growing methods, bio-mimicry, working in a food desert... Growing Power's got it all. I was extremely fortunate that the day I happened to be in Milwaukee was, by complete coincidence, the one day in October that Will Allen, the founder and visionary of Growing Power, gives the tour personally.
I was extremely inspired by Will's talk and the extensive greenhouses, aquaponics systems, animal husbandry, and soil cultivation going on at Growing Power. Two things stood out to me in particular. First, Growing Power is over 20 years old. I first started hearing about Growing Power around 2010, and I had assumed they were a much newer organization. Knowing that they have been around for so long gives me hope for the projects I know about that are starting up now. Where will we be in 20 years? Probably almost as cool as Will Allen. Second, I appreciated the focus on doing farming in a low-cost way. Will and Danny (in the background of the picture above) focused a lot on the cost and time it takes to put in an individual aquaponics system, and played up how doable these projects are, even in someone's back yard or garage. There's hope for all of us!
Meeting with Marquette and UW Milwaukee administrators
I got to meet with Laura Stevens from the Sustainability Department at University of Wisconsin Milwaukee and Andrew Seifert of the Sustainability Initiatives Office at Marquette University. I appreciated the opportunity to hear from them what the food access situation is at each of their schools (there are no grocery stores on either campus). My favorite thing about this meeting was creating an opportunity for Laura and Andrew to discuss what kinds of collaborations could happen between UWM and Marquette.
Coop Fest Milwaukee
Coop Fest Milwaukee was the first in what I hope becomes an annual event, highlighting the coops in the Riverwest neighborhood of Milwaukee and bringing together regional energy around cooperatives. Riverwest has all kinds of coops -- a grocery coop, a cooperatively run book store, a bar that's a consumer coop, a coop bakery, and more. Members of these various coops have come together to start the Riverwest Cooperative Association, which put on Coop Fest. Of particular note were:
- a panel featuring Mike from Just Coffee, a coffee roasting cooperative that was founded to provide a market for Zapatista farmers in Chiapas and continues to work with cooperative growers groups (check out their transparency project)
- an uplifting presentation from Ricky and Armando from New Era Windows, which is a workers cooperative owned by workers who were fired when the factory was closed illegally on 3 days notice.
- a presentation about campus coops that I co-led with Remy from NASCO! We had a small group which let us get deep into questions about what campus coops could look like in Milwaukee.
All in all, it was a great visit to Milwaukee!
Real Food Rising
The Real Food Challenge is an organization fighting for real food that truly nourishes on campuses around the country. I was lucky that they located their fall summit, Real Food Rising, right in my back yard in Minneapolis. While I had to miss the first two days for Coop Fest Milwaukee, I did get to go to an amazing day of workshops, protests, and open spaces on Sunday.
The energy at the conference was contagious. It seemed that every other student I talked to was also excited about the idea of a coop on their campus. I got to lead a section in the Open Space conversation at the end of the day about campus coops and had an in depth conversation with a few students about how to get a buying club started on their campus as a first step towards a grocery cooperative. It's too bad they don't live in my region, but since all the ROs are amazing, they are all in good hands.
I'm all pumped up and ready to follow up on these connections! Happy Monday, everyone!